Review: Divergent (Burger, 2014)

Still from the movie Divergent

All riiiight, another action movie based on a dystopian young adult trilogy. But let’s just say right out that Shailene Woodley doesn’t have the personality or acting chops of a Jennifer Lawrence to elevate this mediocre film into something more electrifying. The setting is this: A future, dilapidated Chicago, surrounded by a guarded gate. We don’t know what’s outside, but it’s likely dangerous and chaotic. Within the city, society is organized into five immutable factions that define all citizens except the “Factionless,” who seem equivalent to our homeless people. The groups are: Candor (the “honest” ones; lawyers, judges, etc.), Amity (the “friendly” ones; farmers and hippies), Dauntless (the “brave” ones; the police and army), Erudite (the “smart” ones; the intelligentsia), and Abnegation (the “selfless” ones; servers of the Faction-less, though why you need one-fifth of the population to service those marginalized by society instead of finding a better solution for them, I don’t know, but maybe someone would ask the same question of our society). When youth come of age, they undergo a test to see what faction they are most suited for. In the end, though, it’s up to each individual to decide the group they want to join. Once they’ve decided, however, the choice is permanent.

Very rarely, the test will come up with an inconclusive result. In this case, the subject is considered Divergent, or someone who can’t be pigeonholed into only a single group. Such a person is considered exceedingly dangerous in this hyper-organized society. It turns out Beatrice (Woodley) is just such a rare bird. Brought up in Abnegation as the daughter of powerfully-connected parents Andrew (Tony Goldwyn) and Natalie (Ashley Judd), Beatrice has never felt that she has belonged…anywhere. Now, pulled by different impulses and needing to disguise her true Divergent nature, Beatrice must make and live with her faction decision. Luckily she has a new group of friends and the exceedingly attractive Four (Theo James) to help her along. Meanwhile, a political struggle between Abnegation, which currently controls the government, and Erudite, which seeks to control it, is underway. Erudite, headed by a woman known only as Jeanine (Kate Winslet), is particularly suspicious of Divergents.

Maybe the novels do a better job with this premise, but I find the whole situation to be just a tad bit absurd. Why would a future society hit upon this strategy of strict division and tribalism to maintain harmony within their city? Furthermore, the movie paints Divergents as the only ones who are capable of a modicum of independent thought. Is it at all realistic then that a greater number of people aren’t Divergents? How many people haven’t thought that they were both intelligent and friendly, or compassionate and honest with a bit of brave thrown in?

Perhaps that’s the point. Don’t forget that this is based off a novel series for young adults, a group of people especially susceptible to identifying with Beatrice’s existential alienation. And it is the particular curse of adolescence to not be able to recognize that, most likely, many others suffer from the same sense of isolation. Add to that the cheesy romance and teeny bopper music that crops up during every emotional scene, and adults may start to get the sense that perhaps they aren’t quite the target audience for this film.

Still, as my scifi-loving husband has shown me, it’s fun to be exposed to a new world, however implausible, and Divergent offers that opportunity. Plus, with at least another two movies lined up in the series (including the upcoming Insurgent), there’s plenty more to explore.